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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

PEO best kept secret for 90 years here

By Barry Schrader.................................January 12, 2006

A little-known, low profile women’s organization that was founded nationally in 1869 by seven young women at Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa organized its first East Bay chapter in the Livermore Valley 90 years ago and is still going strong.

P.E.O. is never spelled out so their full name is never revealed, but looking back at the Livermore Herald edition of Nov. 25, 1916 a front page story declared that a P.E.O. chapter was organized in town. Some of the local founders were Mrs. G.H Todd, the first chapter president, Mrs. Arthur L. Henry (wife of the Herald publisher), and Mrs. C.C. Waud. (The newspapers never used married women’s first names in stories in those days.)

The goal of the group was then and still is now to promote the education and advancement of women. This pioneer society is the only women’s organization in the country to operate a nonsectarian college for women—Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. P.E.O now boasts a membership of a quarter million members throughout the U.S. and Canada. In California alone there are 520 chapters.

Today’s president of that original chapter, known as BG, is Lin Tobin of Livermore. She explained that they hold small fundraisers so they can give a local scholarship in memory of two early members May Nissen and Mabel Hansen to a graduating high school senior as well as help finance state and national scholarships. One of their members, Tressie Kirkman, will soon be observing her 60th anniversary in P.E.O.

The second chapter to form in the Livermore Valley, known as FX, was actually a transfer of charter from a San Francisco chapter (founded in 1928) that was folding in February 1967. The first president of this group was Betty Ellison, who is still active. The current president is Ann Bush of Sunol.

Pleasanton was next to organize a sisterhood, known as Chapter WB, in December 1989 with Barbara Steen elected as president. This year’s leader is Jennie Kordes. One of their members Patti Baer is state chair for the medical scholarships program in California.

A second unit was also formed in Pleasanton, this one in February 2003 when Ann Harper was elected the first president of the XN chapter. Now the president is Melissa Nicholson.

A fledgling chapter has also begun in Tracy, chartered in March 1998 as Chapter XG. Its first president was Ann Fosco and current leader is Diane Gouveia.

I have always been amazed at how effectively the P.E.O. manages to raise scholarship monies and perform community service projects as well, avoiding publicity and staying low key. My mother was in the organization beginning in the 1950s in Illinois and their small chapter operated the town library for many years. Each member had to volunteer one afternoon a month in the library, while the town council funded the purchase of books. She was instrumental in getting my wife interested in joining a chapter in Livermore. As a sideline observer of this dedicated group working behind the scenes to help young women get an education, I continue to be impressed with their efforts.

Like Rotary, they have an auxiliary for spouses. We are called BILs, spelled out as Brothers-In-Law (or some prefer Brothers In Love). Once or twice a year the men are included in a social event or family outing.

Where there are two chapters each in Livermore and Pleasanton, one meets days and other one in the evening each month. The joke among the husbands is that P.E.O. means “Papa Eats Out” as the men sometimes have to fend for themselves on meeting days, as no males are permitted at the meetings or even in the immediate vicinity!

***

Talking to Dick Angel about his front yard bomb shelter in Pleasanton, I thought there has to be some interesting stories about these Cold War hideouts in the valley dating back to the 1950s. So send an email or drop me a line if you know of any left out there or have an anecdote to share about yours and we maybe we make a column out of it.

***

We’ll take a break from history mysteries awhile so I can catch up on my research.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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